Losing a coaching legend

'Chips' remembered for his passion, preparation and voice

Published: Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 12:04 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 4:00 p.m. CDT

Gerald "Chips" Giovanine loved basketball, and the game of basketball loved him back.

He retired in 1994 after 36 years encompassing five decades with a career record of 674-265 and a .718 winning percentage with stints at Bureau Township, Buda Western and LaSalle-Peru high schools. He is ranked No. 21 all-time for wins in Illinois.

Former friends, players and colleagues took time out to remember the coach best known as "Chips," who passed away Saturday.

Bob Sprowls Sr. of Sheffield, a longtime friend and golfing partner, was a school booster at the time and future board member when Buda Western was being formed in the early '60s. He was asked to help bring in Giovanine, the hotshot coach at nearby Bureau Township as their basketball coach.

"They asked me how much it would take to get Chips here from Bureau Township. I said, 'I think he makes $2 (an hour) and some chickens. Maybe start out getting him a few more chickens,'" Sprowls said with a laugh.

Princeton Logan Junior High School teacher Dave Hartz, who played on Giovanine's state squad at Western, said his old coach was a great motivator, often using newspaper clippings and radio sound bites from opposing coaches to help fire up his team for battle.

"He also had little sayings, like, 'The one who controls the glass has the class,'" Hartz said. "He was a big competitor. He had that fire in his eyes when he stepped onto the floor. A lot of our drills were a contest. You were always competing, and it carried over to the games. He had the ability to make you better than you are. He'd take an average team and make it a good team and take a good team and make them really good. He had that passion for the game game and life in general."

In the midst of their undefeated seasons and state tournament runs, Hartz said their coach let them enjoy all the hoopla around Buda and Sheffield, but he kept them grounded.

"He was a really one-of-a-kind guy. There won't be another Chips," Hartz said.

Former Cavalier standout Scott Smith of Princeton said Giovanine was bigger than life for all the kids coming through the LaSalle-Peru program.

"Growing up, you just wanted to be part of the program, and you wanted to play for coach Giovanine. There was no doubt about that," said Smith, a 1984 L-P grad.

Smith and fellow Cav alumnus Heath Terando, who played on Giovanine's last team in 1994, said two things stand out playing for Giovanine — his preparation and his voice.

"I believe that if you took his first team he ever coached and brought them into a practice during his last season, they would tell you that nothing had changed; he was still as driven, still as prepared as ever," said Terando, who now coaches in the Princeton girls program.

"Playing for coach Giovanine was never easy, but he taught you lessons, not just about basketball, but about life ... You look back and count your blessings that you got to play for a coach like that. He was one of the best ever, and I feel fortunate to have played for him."

Neither will ever forget that voice.

"You could just hear that voice. It would carry. For a wee little guy, his voice would boom through everything," Smith said. "I remember the camp with all the different stations and kids on the balcony and the gym floor. He'd holler, 'up, and everybody move' for the next rotation. There was no blowhorn; there was no speaker. It was coach's voice; you knew coach's voice."

While that voice may have been often used to critique his players' performance, at the same time, Smith said Chips was the first to give you praise.

"I remember playing at (Ottawa's) Kingman Gym in the early '80s, and it was a tough place to play. It was loud and had a lot people. If something wasn't going right, you could hear his voice out from amongst everybody. That's for sure," Smith said. "But I tell you what, if you did something right; if you did something good; there was nobody ... there was nobody, cheering harder for you. He was the first guy pumping you up."

St. Bede coach Mike Kilmartin said Giovanine was always the first to congratulate him for any of his own coaching successes.

"When we went to super or state or something, I'd always get a card from him. I kept those cards, and I've used those to help me get my job here ... Those letters are precious," Kilmartin said. "If anybody could be jealous or didn't like him, it could be myself. I was 0-10 against him ... He always was a gentlemen, win or lose."

Kilmartin said part of his coaching philosophy comes from Giovanine.

"Get a good shot every time down, and stay organized. I've told my kids that and where it came from," he said.

Former Hall and IVCC coach Pat Cinotte got a close look at Giovanine's L-P teams from the opposing vantage point playing at Hall, and he became good friends with him as he got into coaching himself.

"He always ran a great program. They played hard, were a well-disciplined team," Cinotte said. "Of late, Chips and I sat on the IBCA Board together, and I have great respect for him. He's done a lot of things for a lot of people in this area. He will be sadly missed."

Giovanine, who said he didn't know how he got the nickname "Chips" growing up in DePue, never really retired from coaching. He frequented his son's games, practices and camps at Augustana College, offering advice and tips along the way.

He also volunteered his time at local youth camps helping aspiring players in developing their jump shot. He was affectionately known as the "shot doctor" at the Princeton High School girls basketball camp.

Giovanine's career numbers are so impressive that they read like typographical errors.

The former DePue Little Giant standout launched his coaching career right out of Western Illinois University at tiny Bureau Township (35 students in school, 17 male) in 1958. His Wildcats went 75-10 in three seasons with three straight district championships, the 1959-60 squad winning their first 28 games games before falling to St. Bede at regionals.

Giovanine moved on to the newly-consolidated Buda Western (with Sheffield) in 1961-62. He guided unprecedented back-to-back, undefeated Rams teams (29-0, 31-0) to the IHSA Class A State Basketball Tournament in 1974-75 and 1975-76. The 1975 team placed fourth.

After a third straight regional crown in 1977 at Western, capping an 85-6 three-year run, Giovanine left Western for LaSalle-Peru. There, he posted 304 wins with nine regionals, including five consecutive regional titles from 1989-93 and four successive NCIC titles from 1990-93. He took his 1993 Cavaliers to the Sweet 16.

He was named as a IBCA District Coach of the Year 10 times, has served on the IBCA Board of Directors and vice president, and was an honorary member.

Most recently, Giovanine was named as the 2014 recipient of the IBCA's Tom "Buzzy" O'Connor Award for lifetime achievement.

Both of his state teams at Western as well as his Bureau Township teams were inducted into the Bureau County Sports Hall of Fame.

He was a basketball and baseball standout at DePue High School. At Western, he was a four-year letterman and captain of the Leathernecks baseball team, inducted into the WIU Hall of Fame in 1985. He was also an accomplished fast pitch softball player.

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